Ex-Prisoner: Cubans Beginning a New Hope

Catholic Church Seen as Renewing the Island

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By Nieves San Martín 

SAN FELIU DE LLOBREGAT, Spain, FEB. 15, 2011 (Zenit.org).- It’s been five months since Miguel Galbán Gutiérrez was walked out of a prison in Cuba and put on a plane with certain members of his family headed to Spain. 

Galbán is one of the political prisoners released thanks to the negotiations between the Catholic Church in Cuba and the Castro government. The Church, he says, is the hope of many of his countrymen. 

Now in exile, Galbán is facing the challenges of establishing himself in a new world — practical difficulties such as securing official recognition of his degree so that he can apply for a job, or getting the dental care he needs after his years in prison. 

But Galbán affirms that what he faces today «will never be comparable to what I faced under the tyranny of the Castro brothers.» Moreover, he says, the difficulties in Spain are lessened by the welcome of his new neighbors. 

ZENIT spoke with Galbán about his experience and his plans for the future. 

ZENIT: Is there something good in the Cuban Revolution? 

Galbán: January marked 51 years since the triumph of a revolution that proposed to change Cuba, because it planned to build «a more democratic, more prosperous, more independent and more just nation.» 

Today reflects the failure of that aim. The price that Cubans have paid in basic liberties that were lost is immense. The government determines what they will study, where they can work, even if they can travel abroad. There is no political liberty or freedom of expression in Cuba. There is no social justice. The people’s standard of life has clearly declined. Today, Cuba is an increasingly poor country, dependent on foreign aid, and less free. 

In 51 years, what was once the fourth economy of Latin America is now one of the last in the region. This nation, which was then a recipient of immigrants, today has been transformed into a society with a migratory potential of more than 1.5 million inhabitants. 

With the coming to power of Raúl Castro, changes were made on a model that is absurd. However, he has secured himself in power and has shown small signs of reform, which continue to be insufficient. Changes in the laws that recognize the fundamental liberties that govern in a free and democratic society are the first necessity. Inevitably, the Cuban people wish to express their ideas freely without the need of a president telling them that they can speak without fear of reprisals, especially when they have endured decades of it. 

This is the reality of the Cuban situation. What the Castro brothers will leave behind is a legacy of blood, injustice and destruction. 

ZENIT: You say that your Christian faith helped you while you were in prison. In what sense? 

Galbán: At the beginning of my imprisonment I didn’t understand the reality in which I found myself, of elevated petition and sanction, sub-human and denigrating conditions of life, solitary confinement, without contacts with family for months, all of which I was about to begin to suffer from that moment on. 

I evaluated the situation in which I found myself. My Christian religion enabled me to address the reality through my faith and daily prayers. 

I began to employ my time in making myself fit physically and spiritually; I re-established my journalistic efforts, but in a far more hostile and dangerous environment, where one saw oneself defenseless before the abusive machinery of the political police. 

In the more than seven and a half years that I was kept in prisons of the Cuban regime — I was in two prisons, in both the penitentiary of Aguica, Matanzas, as well as in that of Guanajay, in Havana — they deprived me of countless religious visits. The political authorities take recourse to the privation of this right as a method of torture. 

I was nine months in Aguica without being offered this help. Subsequently, on different occasions, I was not allowed to see the parish priest. What were allowed were consultations every three months. In Guanajay it was once a month, but I was denied it for five months. The oppressors said that it was an activity of re-education and that I could not attend unless I went with the prison uniform. [Then] they allowed me to attend, but not the Masses. 

ZENIT: What does it mean to be Christian in Cuba? 

Galbán: To be a Christian in my country, as in all dictatorships of a Stalinist type, is a great difficulty which our children and relatives also face in being part of society. Since it came to power, the Castro regime prohibited being a believer, and relentlessly persecuted all those it considered an obstacle to its objective to inculcate in the people its disastrous political ideology. 

Being a practicing Catholic, showing that one’s parents were so, or having a religious image in one’s home, meant one could not access a university, or obtain fitting and dignified employment. At present, the government says subtly that Christians are not repressed, but its conduct reflects a different reality: Christians sill don’t have access to many jobs or studies. […] 

Christians are reproached through a mean procedure they call «Ability and Reliability.» They use this when one wishes to access a job, or technical or university studies, which are denied them and offered those who support the dictatorships. 

In my country, only state education is authorized. Through schools, representatives of the regime try to inculcate in children from the start an atheist education idealizing the figure of dictator Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution as «Paradise,» as the only human system of hope and opportunities that exists in the world. 

This anti-religious formation in children, who have received formation from their believing parents from the cradle, places a child in contradiction with his family environment, one of the main aims pursued by the regime when it prohibited religious education in the schools. 

ZENIT: How do you see the lay movement of the Church in Cuba? 

Galbán: I find the future of the lay movement very encouraging. In recent times the Cuban Catholic Church is the hope of many nationals. There are human and educational projects in almost all the dioceses. Soup kitchens have been created and laundry services for the elderly, day care centers for children and other indispensable services for the neediest. 

Moreover, with the few means it has at hand, it is acquiring new plots of land, new areas, which are still insufficient, but which can unleash in society a political, social and juridical progress that has begun to gestate inside the Castro regime, with the recognition of the Catholic Church’s right to exist and the necessity that it serve as interlocutor on the island to offer solutions to some of the problems we suffer. 

What is most significant is the release of some of the prisoners of the Group of 75, the presence every Sunday of the Ladies in White in the capital’s church of St. Rita and their subsequent walk on 5th Avenue. 

ZENIT: What would you say to your companions who are still in prison? 

Galbán: To my companions — who courageously stay in the prisons of the Cuban regime, a place where at present they should not be and, in addition, where they are doubly punished because they haven’t agreed to leave their homeland which witnessed their birth, for Spain — I say that although I don’t have the stability of a place to reside with my family, I am learning to live in liberty and democracy and I find myself doing everything that is within reach so that they also will be out of those «cemeteries of live men,» which are the prisons of the Cuban regime. 

ZENIT: What are the prospects and realities in Spain after five months? 

Galbán: On arriving in Madrid, my aspirations were to travel one day to the United States where I have relatives and friends, and continue to write about the Cuban situ
ation. In awaiting this objective … to earn my daily living in this country which admitted me comprehensively with 10 members of my family nucleus, accepting a document given to us by officials of the Spanish Consulate before leaving Cuba, which explains how we would be inserted into society. 

When we arrived in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spanish autonomous community, where I have been relocated, the Red Cross is caring for us but is not aware of what the document states; we see ourselves drifting without official support. Moreover, the work of this NGO is different from what it is in other parts of the Spanish territory. 

Having studied these complications, my plans have not changed at all, what I have done is to adapt them to the circumstances. What I am feeling will never be comparable to what I faced under the tyranny of the Castro brothers. 

The greatest difficulties at this time regard the official recognition of our professional degrees to have opportunities to compete for a place in the labor market and to be able to be inserted in Spanish society. 

I still have not had the full medical care I need for my teeth and eyes. To be taken into account is that I came out of prison directly to this country, which I respect and admire, and to which I am grateful for having allowed me to come here together with my family unit. 

This pessimism is consoled by the gestures of affection and support since our arrival, manifested by the Spanish people, Madrid’s inhabitants. 

[Translation by ZENIT]
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